The State of Play – Big Ten: Nebraska (2013 Preview)

With the hiring and firing of coaches, plus the charade that is National Signing Day, behind us, the never-ending world of college football moves to its next stage – training camp! Yes, with spring been and gone, a new fervor settles over each school as the hope that comes with a new year settles in. The seniors are gone, but a new batch of starters are ready to step in and prove their worth. Or not, whatever the case may be. So read on and find out where each team stands.

 

Taylor Martinez

 

2012 Record: 10-4, 7-2 Big Ten

 

Offensive MVP: QB Taylor Martinez – Passing 368-228-2871-23-12, Rushing 195-1019-10.

 

Defensive MVP: DE Eric Martin – 59 Tackles, 16.5 for loss, 8.5 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles, 12 QB Hurries.

 

 

Season Recap:

 

Apart from a tough loss to UCLA and the defense forgetting to get on the team bus against Ohio State, the Cornhuskers were having a fine season. They were dominant on defense and the offense was rolling – then came the Big Ten title game. The Cornhuskers were flattened 70-31 by a Wisconsin team making up for a disappointing season, then followed it up by losing 45-31 to Georgia in a bowl game where they just ran out of steam. So, a solid season ended on a bum note. Unfortunately, most people will remember the latter.

 

The offense looked to be in trouble when tough and versatile running back Rex Burkhead went down with a season-spoiling (as opposed to ending) injury. No problem – in stepped Ameer Abdullah, who successfully carried the load in his absence. Taylor Martinez took a big step forward in his development, showing more accuracy than in seasons past. He still threw 12 interceptions, but 10 came in four games, three of them losses. A fine bunch of receivers, led by Kenny Bell, certainly didn’t hurt his progress. The offensive line were outstanding run blockers, but struggled on occasion with pass protection, not an uncommon problem with mobile QBs.

 

The defense was a tale of two units. The pass defense was outstanding, allowing a mere 168 yards per game (and that includes 726 in two games), but the run defense was horribly vulnerable at times, allowing nearly 200 ypg (average of 350 ypg in four losses), despite a senior-laden unit. DE Eric Martin was good against both run and pass, as was Baker Steinkuhler. The latter’s absence for the last two games really hurt the defense. LB Will Compton was a versatile playmaker, but the other two spots were a regular mix-and-match of personnel (LBs & DBs), which hurt continuity. NB Ciante Evans deserves a nod though. Andrew Green was solid at one corner, and the other spot held up despite some movement of players, but the safeties where the strength of the secondary. Damion Stafford was all conference, while running-mate PJ Smith was no slouch.

 

Brett Maher was not only one of the better kickers in the B1G, but he was one of the better punters too, earning all-conference recognition at both spots. He also nailed an amazing 57 touchbacks. Abdullah was a fine kick and punt returner before he gave up the jobs due to his increased workload on offense, and no one stepped forward to adequately replace him. Kick coverage was good despite a TD allowed, but punt coverage was a problem.

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What to Expect in 2013:

 

Another ten wins, at least. Pelini has been recruiting well here, and is building a monster. This could (and should) be the year the Cornhuskers break out. The offense is loaded, with eight starters back, including all but one of last season’s key contributors – Burkhead. With Abdullah showing he can carry the load, and some impressive talent in reserve, Nebraska can rely on their running game again this year. The offensive line loses LG Seung Hoon Choi and C Justin Jackson, but depth and the judicious recruiting of JUCOs this year leaves little cause for concern. Martinez is back for one last hurrah, and if he improves like he did last season, he could be in for a special year. Helping him out will be the top three receivers from last season, including explosive Kenny Bell. A TE must be found though. The biggest thing the Huskers have to fix is turnovers – 35 last season is just ridiculous.

 

The defense that collapsed on occasion, especially against the run, could be in even more trouble with seven starters gone. Three starters are gone off the line, including Martin and Steinkuhler. Jason Ankrah returns at one end spot, with Thaddeus Randle at DT. Neither did enough last season to guarantee their jobs this year. It would be a grave disappointment if top JUCO recruit Randy Gregory  doesn’t start at end. All the jobs are up for grabs, and there are more JUCOs arriving to bolster depth. Linebacker is in a similar bind with Compton gone. There was a lot of change at the other positions, so starters need to be settled on. Trevor Roach may have earned one job with a fine spring game, but nothing will be decided until fall when some new and talented recruits arrive. Both corners return, which is good news, but Smith and Stafford are gone at safety. Replacing these two may be the toughest job this fall. Replacing the experience of the graduated starters may be nigh on impossible.

 

On the subject of key losses, overlooking the graduation of Maher would be erroneous. Mauro Bondi will probably take the kicking job, with Sam Foltz punting if he doesn’t get an increased role at receiver. There will be competition in camp. Jamal Turner looks to be the favorite for the return gig, but expect Bell to chip in.

 

Can they get the defense sorted? If the offense can hang onto the ball, it could be potent, but will they need to win shootouts all season? They could potentially run the table, with UCLA and a trip to Michigan the biggest concerns (at the time of writing). I don’t think they’re going to run the table, but I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if they ripped off another 10-win season.

 

 

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About Al Burke

I've been a writer for about five years, focusing mostly on college football, but occasionally delving into the murky world of the NFL, especially around draft time. I currently reside north of the Border in Vancouver with my ever-patient wife Vicky and two kids, Niamh and Eoin. I look after the kids right now, and I work in my local library to help pay the bills. I also write for The New Sports Guru and Daily Shootout. You can find more of my work at http://thenewsportsguru.com/category/alan-burke and http://www.dailyshootout.com/ I'm something of a Twitter junkie, so feel free to tweet me and/or like my facebook page. I like to have the last word, so expect a response or ten. I played football for 20 years, right up to the age of 37, and to be honest, I'd still play if there were "old fart" leagues available. I've been an assistant coach for 8 years, and also have head-coaching experience. I currently coach Bantam and JVAA at Sentinel Secondary in West Vancouver.

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